Monday, December 19, 2016
Posted by
Dave Freeman

From the Freemans: An Amazing Milestone & Bear Witness Film Debut

After years of hard work and tens of thousands of petition signatures, phone calls, donations, volunteer hours, and meaningful actions by concerned citizens from across the country, we were rewarded on December 15 by the federal government’s announcement that two key expired mineral leases on the edge of the Wilderness, currently held by Twin Metals Minnesota, will not be renewed. These leases are more than 50 years old and have never undergone any environmental review. Amy and I are overjoyed by this announcement and found ourselves jumping up and down and hugging when the news reached us in Ely on Thursday.

During the summer of 2013, Amy and I portaged a canoe from Gabbro Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to a Twin Metals test-drilling site just outside of the Wilderness. That afternoon spent out exploring that area brought the weight of the potential impacts Twin Metals and sulfide-ore copper mines proposed along the southern edge of the Wilderness pose to this national treasure—on which our jobs and our way of life depend. But what could we do? With few connections and even less money, at first we felt lost and sadden by what seemed the inevitable destruction to this Wilderness that is our lifeblood.

Luckily for us, a small group of local folks were developing a plan, which would grow into a movement, which continues to grow and expand today into the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. For more than three years people have been working tirelessly to urge the government to deny the renewal of these old leases.

When Amy and I spent 101 days paddling, portaging, and sailing "Sig," our signature canoe, from Ely to Washington D.C. in 2014 during the Paddle to DC, our main goal was to urge the federal government to not renew the expire Twin Metals leases. Then in 2015 Amy and I paddled into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness where we remained for an entire year, 366 days to be exact, to continue to call on citizen from across the country to come together and urge the government to deny the renewal of these same expired leases. More than 74,000 people joined us last summer by signing petitions during a month-long public comment period held by the U.S. Forest Service.

The denial of the Twin Metals leases is due largely to the hard work and voices of this growing movement, of which Amy and I are so proud to be a part. Over the last few days I have found myself smiling for no apparent reason, and then I remember that we have reached an amazing milestone in our fight to permanently protect this very special place.

Along with their decision to not renew the key Twin Metal’s leases the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it is beginning a comprehensive environmental review to determine whether National Forest lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters are the wrong place for sulfide-ore copper mining and whether National Forest lands adjacent to the Wilderness should be removed from the federal mining program altogether. Numerous scientific studies show the dramatic risk such a mine would pose to the water-intensive, ecologically sensitive wilderness of the Boundary Waters. Nearly 8 in 10 Minnesotans support such a study and it is imperative that we all redouble our efforts in the coming weeks and months.

Over the next three months the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and our coalition members must gather hundreds of thousands of additional comments and petition signatures. We must draw strength from this victory for the Boundary Waters and the people and communities it supports—and move forward with renewed resolve towards the over-arching goal of permanently protecting the Boundary Waters Watershed from sulfide-ore copper mining pollution.

During A Year in the Wilderness we worked hard to capture the intangible values that wilderness affords, which Sigurd Olson often wrote about. Videographers Nate Ptacek and Matty Van Biene joined us several times throughout the year to help us capture the essence of this Wilderness, with the goal of sharing it with a million more people across the country and around the world through a short film produced by Duct Tape The Beer, which was funded through several environmental grants from Patagonia.

Today we are delighted to share Bear Witness with you. We hope you enjoy fruits of the collective hard work of many people.  Please share this film widely and use Bear Witness as a tool to raise awareness about the Boundary Waters and the threats proposed sulfide-ore copper mines bring to this national treasure. Please ask your communities to watch the film, share the film, and take action.

Sign the Petition


Download the song "This Quiet Place"

Available on iTunes and CDBaby
Proceeds benefit Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters

"This Quiet Place" is an original song written by Jerry Vandiver, Eric Frost, Dave Freeman and Amy Freeman. They wrote this song in the Boundary Waters during the Freeman's Year in the Wilderness to help spread the word about the need to protect the Wilderness. Performed by Jerry Vandiver and Amberly Rosen.


Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, are dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on its wilderness edge. In 2014, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, MN, to Washington, DC, on the Paddle to DC. From September 23, 2015 to September 23, 2016, the Freemans spent A Year in the Wilderness, camping at approximately 120 different sites, exploring 500 lakes, rivers and streams, and traveling more than 2,000 miles by canoe, foot, ski, snowshoe and dog team. They documented their year and will continue to share their stories on social media (@FreemanExplore, #WildernessYear) and in blog posts. A documentary about their journey, Bear Witness, premiered fall 2016. A book about their year will be published by Milkweed Editions in fall 2017.